Sunday, April 15, 2012

Infinite Jest

So. I read Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace's 1000-page monster of a novel.  I've owned it since 1997. I got my first job when I was fifteen, at little bookstore, and Infinite Jest always looked interesting to me, sitting there on the shelf. So one day I bought it.  Then I hung onto it for 15 years.

I started it last fall because a friend asked if I'd ever read it, and said it was great.  I'd been reading for a long time about how amazing David Foster Wallace is, but a recommendation from someone I knew finally pushed me into opening it up.

I'd tried to read it before, of course.  But it takes place in the near future, where the years are subsidized by companies (The Year of the Perdue Wonder Chicken, for example, instead of, say, 2006), and it switches characters a lot initially, and it was just too much.

But my friend assured me that after the first 200 pages, it got a lot more readable, so I vowed to stick with it for at least 201.  By the time I got past 200, it was still kind of tough, but I was already 20% in, so I decided to stick with it.

It's not especially readable, particularly in those first 200 pages.  At first it follows Hal, a teenager at a tennis academy, then Hal's football player brother Orin, then Don Gately, the ex-junkie and -thief, then other random characters, all mixed around.  And you don't know how their stories relate.  And there are tons of footnotes.  And you don't know if you aren't understanding references to things because you missed something, or because it will be revealed in time, or because it's the future and things are different and it's okay if you don't understand all of it.

But eventually, things settle down, focusing on Hal, Don, and Steeply and Marathe, two undercover agents having a meeting on a mountain in Arizona.  There's a video, referred to as The Entertainment, that kills people, essentially. When you watch it, you get so entranced and entertained that you lose your mind and can't function anymore.

Figuring out who made the tape, and where the master copy is, and how to get it, could be considered the main plot of the novel.  But there's a lot more to it than that.  Like Eschaton, the complicated tennis-based world-domination game played at the tennis academy.  And Madame Psychosis, a drug addict radio host who is also Orin's ex-girlfriend and also wears a veil to cover her deformities. And Alcoholics Anonymous. And Hal's relationship with his dad, and his dad's relationship with his own dad.  And all these random objects at the academy disappearing and moving on their own.  And a million other things.

I'm glad I read it.  It was intense.  It wasn't easy to read.  It didn't tie everything up in a neat package.  But I don't think I'll forget it quickly.

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